There has been a lot of speculation about how the bullpen got its name. It is generally believed that the term originated because pitchers early in the century used to warm up against the Bull Durham signs that were fixtures in most parks.
However it got its name, every manager will tell you this: "I can't win without a bullpen."
Some say the bullpen is the land of the misfits, the rest home for the sore-arm pitcher, the terminal for the oldtimer waiting for the bus back to the minor leagues, or the hideout of the manager's friend who is counting the days until he is eligible for the baseball pension plan. It is for the pitcher whose curve ball hangs and who is referred to as the janitor, or mop-up man. It is behind the lines for the shell-shocked. The bullpen is the slums of baseball. The high-rent district belongs to the big four starters of the pitching staff.
The basic layout of the bullpen is the same—any spot in the ball park where the crew is out of the way and can get up to play catch, when and if they are needed. The population of the bullpen usually consists of three pitchers—a long man, a short man and the mop-up man. (Sometimes a fourth pitcher is in the crew—a spot starter who is used in relief.) Depending on the roster, there is a catcher and either the fifth outfielder or the utility infielder who doubles as a warmup catcher in his spare time. Recently, more and more pitching coaches have also taken up residence in the bullpen.
With the coming of the Jim Konstantys, Joe Pages, Ted Wilkses and other great specialists, the bullpen has taken on some respectability and even glamour. Birdie Tebbetts says that the relief pitcher is the one man on a team that can make a manager look like a genius.
The long man is usually a starter who has been in a pitching slump and is trying to untrack himself. He is trying to pitch his way out of the bullpen back to the big four. The manager uses him in the early innings, usually in a losing game, hoping he can finish the game. The real hope is that somewhere along the line, while holding the other team close enough to pick up the win, he will regain the confidence and touch that was lost. The long man is more of a transient than a permanent guest.
He is generally replaced by a young pitcher in need of seasoning. It takes a real con artist to keep this fellow happy. The young ambitious pitcher looks upon the bullpen as a dog house. The question in his mind is: "What did I do or what did I say to have him send me down here?" The trick is to swing his thinking around to: "Will I get another start if I look good in relief?"
The short man is the star of the housing project. He is the man the manager depends on in the late innings to nail down a victory or hold the other club. All pennant winning teams have had good short men—Joe Page, Joe Black, Hugh Casey, Al Brazle, Jim Konstanty, Clem Labine. The short man may go a week without pitching and then pitch every day in the heat of a pennant race.
The mop-up man is the ugly duckling of the crew. Many times a decision has to be made on this individual—whether to keep him on the roster or not. Meanwhile, he is used to mop up a lost cause and be of some value to the club. His contribution often is to absorb a shellacking that saves another pitcher for the next day's game.
Many times, though, a mop-up man battles his way up to the big four. Used infrequently and never knowing when the mop-up call will come, he must be ready to give all he's got every chance he gets. If he looks good, even in a losing game, the question always comes up: "Would he be that good if the game meant something?" Therein lies his hope. Maybe he gets a chance in a closer game. If he passes this test, he may be cast in the role of the short man to nail a game down. The next step up is to be used as a starter in spots.